Free speech wins over Amendment 54

Colorado voters who were paying attention in the autumn of 2008 should not be surprised by Monday’s news out of Denver. The Colorado Supreme Court has found Amendment 54 unconstitutional. The measure prohibited campaign contributions from labor unions and certain government contractors.

The decision is a welcome victory for political free speech, and it is the latest in a string of defeats for those wanting to decree who can and cannot engage in political speech.

Amendment 54 was narrowly approved by voters in November, 2008, but it was quickly challenged by a coalition of groups and individuals. Last June, a district judge in Denver declared substantial parts of the amendment unconstitutional, and the issue was taken to the Supreme Court.

In Monday’s ruling, the court found that so much of Amendment 54 violated the constitution that it could not be salvaged “as meaningful legislative enactment.”

Amendment 54, readers may recall, supposedly set out to make government contracting more ethical.

It decreed that any individual or organization that received a no-bid contract — or sole-source contract, as it’s called — worth more than $100,000 from any state or local government agency was prohibited from making political contributions while the contract was in force and for two years afterward.

But the measure didn’t just limit contribution for political campaigns in the jurisdiction where the contract was awarded. It prohibited them statewide. Under that expansive rule, a businessman who secured a sole-source contract to provide a service to the city of Grand Junction would be prohibited from donating to a candidate running for governor. That never made sense.

Additionally, and equally troubling, the amendment included “collective bargaining” in its definition of sole-source contracting. That was aimed directly at labor groups that represent public employees, such as teachers’ unions or police and fire unions.

The Daily Sentinel has certainly had its differences with public employees unions, but we don’t believe they should be shut out of the political process, as Amendment 54 sought to do, just because we disagree with them.

The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that contributions to candidates and political parties are a form of constitutionally protected speech. And its recent decision on campaign contributions makes it clear those rights are guaranteed for corporations and labor unions, much as they are for individuals.

We’ll reiterate what we have said repeatedly over the years: The key to campaign finance rules must be requiring full disclosure of who gives to whom, not attempting to establish arbitrary rules on who may give and how much they may give.

Here’s hoping Monday’s decision by the Colorado Supreme Court gives the speech regulators in this state second thoughts before they attempt to implement new limits on political speech.


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